Thinking Outside the Peanut
Sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you feel like a different kind of nut.
If you’re jonesing for an alternative to peanut butter to slather on your morning toast or if Skippy is banned from your child’s school, you’re in luck. These days store shelves are stocked with an increasing number of tasty and nutritious nut and seed spreads. Venture past the chunky peanut butter and try spreading these standouts.
ALMOND BUTTER ..........................
Ounce for ounce, sweet-tasting almond butter provides 20% more bone-building calcium than does peanut butter. It’s also a richer source of fiber and monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to have favorable effects on blood cholesterol and blood pressure, making this delicious nut butter a champion for heart health. In addition, almond butter is often spared the unflattering sugar and hydrogenated oils added to many major brand peanut butters. When possible, look for unsalted versions.
SNEAK MORE IN: Try using almond butter in peanut butter cookie recipes to add a little mystery. Or make a nutritious snack by spreading almond butter on a 100% whole grain tortilla and topping with a sliced pear, chopped dried apricots, crumbled soft goat cheese, and a touch of honey.
BEST BUYS: Artisana Raw Organic Almond Butter (www.artisanafoods.com), Mara-Natha Organic Raw Almond Butter (www.maranathafoods.com)
CASHEW BUTTER ..........................
Cashew lovers (who isn’t?) will enjoy the buttery, indulgent taste of cashew butter, while health nuts are sure to appreciate that this spread is brimming with hearthealthy monounsaturated fat and copper. Unbeknownst to many, copper is vital for proper iron metabolism, immune health, and collagen synthesis, making it a necessary mineral for bone and skin health. The calorie count, as for all nut and seed spreads, is not low at about 100 per tablespoon. Ergo, spread it thin.
SNEAK MORE IN: For a healthier, veganfriendly alternative to saturated fat-laden heavy cream in soups and chocolate sauces such as ganache, try stirring in cashew cream. Simply place cashew butter in a blender container with just enough water to barely cover it and blend until very smooth.
BEST BUYS: Once Again Organic Cashew Butter (www.onceagainnutbutter.com), Kettle Unsalted Cashew Butter (www.kettlebrand.com)
HAZELNUT BUTTER ..........................
This über-butter is so rich and smoky tasting that once the lid is popped you’ll struggle to keep your wandering index finger (or a piece of dark chocolate!) away. Hazelnuts are brimming with vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that may help slow cognitive decline. Scientists at Rutgers University determined that dietary vitamin E is more effective at battling cancers than its supplemental form. As with other nut and seed butters, store opened hazelnut butter in the fridge to preserve freshness.
SNEAK MORE IN: To make your own luscious chocolate hazelnut spread, stir together hazelnut butter with cocoa powder, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Spread on apple slices, waffles, or whole grain crackers. To liven up plain-Jane salads, make a vinaigrette by blending 1 tablespoon hazelnut butter, 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, and 1⁄4 cup each of olive oil and orange juice.
BEST BUYS: Kettle Unsalted Hazelnut Butter, Eden-Nuts Hazelnut Butter (www.edennuts.com)
SUNFLOWER SEED BUTTER ..........................
With the closest taste and texture to peanut butter, sunflower butter is a good source of artery-friendly monounsaturated fat and magnesium. Research is young, but several studies suggest that higher intakes of the mineral magnesium can help slash the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar numbers. Several states include sunflower butter in their school lunch programs to combat peanut allergies. The frugal shopper will appreciate that this seed butter is reasonably inexpensive compared with others.
SNEAK MORE IN: To make a palate-pleasing riff on hummus, blend 3⁄4 cup sunflower butter, one 14-ounce can drained garbanzo beans, 1⁄2 cup extravirgin olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, 1⁄4 cup lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon cumin in a food processor.
BEST BUYS: Once Again Organic Sunflower Seed Butter, SunButter Organic Unsweetened Sunflower Seed Butter (www.sunbutter.com)
PUMPKIN SEED BUTTER ..........................
Grind up those jack-o’-lantern castoffs and what’s left is a verdant earthy-tasting spread laced with magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamin K. A 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study determined that vitamin K can protect against coronary artery calcification, an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Further, phytosterols in pumpkin butter can inhibit cholesterol absorption in the intestine, making it an ideal part of a heart-healthy diet.
SNEAK MORE IN: In a food processor, whirl together 1⁄3 cup walnuts, 1⁄2 cup dried pitted dates, 2 tablespoons pumpkin seed butter, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract into a paste. Roll into balls and store in the fridge for when you’re feeling peckish.
BEST BUYS: Naturally Nutty Organic Pepita Sun Seed Butter (www.naturallynutty.com), Omega Nutrition Organic Pumpkin Seed Butter (www.omeganutrition.com)
COCONUT BUTTER ..........................
Spread this up-and-coming butter on toast, crackers, or English muffins and you’ll feel as if you’ve been whisked to a tropical climate. Made by puréeing coconut flesh, melt-in-your mouth coconut butter gets a bad rap due to its high saturated fat content, but research suggests that medium-chain saturated fatty acids in coconut have a neutral effect on heart health. Lauric acid, the predominant form of saturated fat in coconut butter, appears to have strong antibacterial properties.
SNEAK MORE IN: You can swap dairy butter for coconut butter in baking, but the latter is more dense, so compensate by adding a bit more liquid. It’s also great in oatmeal, salad dressings, smoothies, sauces, and curries. Or give roasted sweet potatoes flair by topping them with some coconut butter.
BEST BUYS: Nutiva Organic Coconut Manna (www.nutiva.com), Artisana Organic Raw Coconut Butter
CRAFT YOUR OWN ..........................
Homemade nut or seed butters seem like more of a high-flying kitchen feat than they really are. To make your own, add 2 to 3 cups of nuts or seeds to a food processor container. Begin to blend, drizzling in 2 tablespoons of canola or grapeseed oil from the top along the way. Process for about 2 to 3 minutes until a smooth mixture forms, adding more oil if the mixture is not smoothing out as desired. You may need to scrape down the sides along the way. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two months.
JAZZ IT UP ..........................
When making your own nut butter, consider the options:
- Try using oft-overlooked nuts such as Brazil or pistachio. Also consider using a couple different nuts or seeds for unique flavor combinations.
- For a chunkier butter, use a little less oil and fold finely chopped nuts into the butter at the end.
- For a deeper flavor, roast the nuts or seeds in the oven at 350˚F for five to 10 minutes before blending. Let cool to room temperature first.
- Add different flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla extract, ginger powder, orange zest, cocoa, or even a pinch of cayenne.